A Book of Shadows is a witch's personal grimoire - a collection of spells and rituals, recipes and personal notes accumulated over their magical life. Although the basic text and rituals may be the same for all those following the same witchcraft tradition - and if you are a Wiccan they will contain some of the words penned by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente - every witch will make their own changes and additions. Some people keep their Book of Shadows neatly handwritten in a single book, other - like me - end up with a loose collection of papers in a file, box or bulging envelope.
It seems that American Wiccan author Scott Cunningham fell into the latter category. Scott died in 1993, but his Book of Shadows had only just been found because it was stuffed into an old brown envelope and lost among a pile of other paperwork.
It has only recently been rediscovered and has just been published in book form by Llewellyn. Being nosey, I had to get a copy. And I was delighted with what I found inside.
There are two things about Cunningham's Book of Shadows it is important to realise. First, it is not an introduction to witchcraft - rather it is a companion book to Scott's earlier work Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Second, although Scott was preparing the Book of Shadows for publication at the time of his death, he never finished the work.
What you get is a collection of rituals for Sabbats (seasonal festivals) and Esbats (full moon rites); snippets of information; legends; prayers, chants and invocations; recipes for seasonal feasts, herbal remedies, incense and ritual oils; spells and magical lore; rune magic and a glossary of magical signs and symbols.
If you are a reasonably experienced witch, you will find this a treasure trove of wise and beautiful words to plunder and add to your own Book of Shadows.
Llewllyn has edited Scott's manuscript very gently to retain all of his material as he presented it, but because the manuscript was unfinished it is a bit fragmentary - although excerpts from Scott's earlier books have been added to help clarify and explain each chapter. It works well and makes a great reference book.
However, if this is the first book about witchcraft you have ever read, you will probably be a bit confused and struggle to put it into context. My recommendation would be to first read Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner or the material in my guide to finding out the basics of witchcraft.
Another important point to bear in mind about Cunningham's Book of Shadows is that it is aimed at American witches. The subtitle is The Path of an American Traditionalist. That isn't to say English witches won't find it useful, but they will find more Americanisms than in books by English witches.
For example, the recipes have measurements in cups rather than litres. English people might also have trouble finding a nearby desert in which to perform a fire ritual, although I could be tempted to fly out to the Burning Man festival some time, to give it a go :)
Nevertheless, most of the spells, rituals and lore in the book would be usable by people all over the world. With the nights getting longer both in the UK and the US, here is one little spell from the book that we can all use:
To Be Said for Protection While Walking Alone at Night
Ruler of Night
Keep me safe
Until the light!
Cunningham's Book of Shadows: The Path of an American Traditionalist is published by Llewellyn and has an RRP of $19.95 in the US. In England, it is available to order through Amazon
Cunningham's Book of Shadows: The Path of an American Traditionalist
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (Llewellyn's Practical Magick)